make-believe.org

To the pain means the first thing you lose will be your feet below the ankles.

Ah, wasn't that something? From the first counted votes in the early morning (Melbourne time) until its mid-afternoon denouement, Indiana was a feast of democratic theatrics. If you couldn't set aside the time to follow the narrative as it played out, let me recap.

Indiana belongs to two timezones (Eastern and Central), and has the unusual, arguably dubious practice of closing polls early at 6pm — not so strange to Australians, but then again we don't vote on Tuesdays. So at the groggy hour of just after 8am, results started to trickle in from the Eastern majority of the state. Beginning, as usual, with rural areas. Those deep southern tracts that Bill Clinton spent a week traversing repaid their debts and left a tip. Hillary streaked to a 30 point lead that simmered and settled into a high-teens holding pattern as Fort Wayne proved an Obaman buttress — but while the percentage held, the vote difference grew: first ten thousand, then twenty, then quickly enough forty. Marion County, host to liberal Indianapolis, began its slow churn of results, and eventually the vote difference stabilised at fifty thousand displaced chads. Consequently the percentage shrank, dipping to 53:47 with the surprisingly pro-Obama votes from the Catholic northern county of St Joseph.

Just under four hours into the count, the percentage came to rest at 52:48 in Clinton's favour, a net advantage of some 40,000 from just short of a million votes. The university town of Bloomington in Monroe Country was secreting predictably Barack-loving numbers, but only in counterpoint to the wide rural stretches of lower Indiana turning out on behalf of the woman who wanted to save them $50 at the gas pump over summer and protect them from vile gun-control laws.

Two counties reserved their judgement at 0% counted, hanging like Damoclean swords or waterbombs over the numerical status quo: Lake County in the north-west — home to the city of Gary and 8% of Indiana's population — and Union in the mid-east, in deep Clinton country, which looked ominous until one glanced at the census data (something like 0.1% of the state).

On the 29th of March this year, the mayor of Gary — a man by the name of Rudy Clay, an unabashed Obama supporter — claimed that the city would be the talk of the nation two months later on election night. Gary, you see, has a history of electoral king-making, because it produces results like molasses makes bubbles. Clay said that day that Gary would be the name on the lips of newscasters: "They are going to point at Indiana and say Hillary Clinton is leading by one point but Gary ain't come in yet."

He was only out by a percentile or two.

So we waited. Clay had the numbers — we knew this because other mayors of Lake County appeared on the networks and explained that they'd tendered their machine votes at half-six Central. But Clay had a sense of drama akin to the great Elizabethan playwrights. It was not until 1:45pm, just short of midnight in Indiana, that Clay dropped a 28%-of-the-vote bomb on a frothing commentariat: this quarter of Lake had gone 75:25 for Obama, yielding him an eighteen thousand vote gain, and tightening the margin to 23,000.

The sanest voice I've found in US electoral psephology put Obama's chances of winning Indiana at 30% when this information was divulged. If anything like that ratio held in Lake, the state (and likely the nomination) was his this night.

But Clay had a finer ear for melodrama. He waited forty minutes for the chattering heads on the cable nets to exhaust this tantalising revelation, and then produced the 56%-of-the-vote enigma: Barack's advantage reduced to 65%, his gains in Lake minor but still enough that when extrapolated made every vote count.

Then, gaining my admiration for his gumption, he made himself available to the media. He talked and talked and talked about the so-called reasons for the delay, and said at one point "there's more results coming in about 20 minutes", deftly dodging the ham-fisted attempts to pin him down for (quite obviously) staging the scene.

But wasn't it a dream? For a long moment, Obama had the nomination if he could just pull out 20,000 punctured ballots, and how couldn't he in Chico Gary? Of course Clay gave us his third act right on time, a 98% fizzler, when the inevitable south of Lake County redressed the imbalance initiated by Gary, leaving Hillary comfortably 30,000 clear.

All of which means that West Virginia looms next Tuesday, a presumed victory for Clinton, like Kentucky a week later. But when Kentucky votes, so does Oregon, and it is the likely win there for Obama that should finally resolve this, if Clinton does not tender her handkerchief in the face of the inevitable this week. And not before time: this has been good, but it has become damaging, and we've seen multitudinous sides of her that really we'd rather not have. I'd like Oregon to bring this thing to an end, in part because it and Wisconsin are my two favourite American states I've never seen.

Joseph | 7 May 2008

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